Federal court rules California ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional

A federal appeals court in California has struck down the state’s voter-approved ban on marriages and civil unions for gay people.

The decision, which came Tuesday morning in San Francisco, upholds a federal district court decision striking down the law. The decision by a three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit all but ensures that the issue of gay marriage is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The panel found that Proposition 8 — passed by California voters in November 2008 by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent — violated the equal protection rights of two same-sex couples that brought the suit,” The New York Times wrote. “The proposition placed a specific prohibition in the State Constitution against marriage between two people of the same sex.”

Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote that while the Constitution allows local governments to pass laws they deem desirable, it also requires a legitimate reason if the law treats people differently.

““There was no such reason that Proposition 8 could have been enacted,” he wrote.

The next step in the case would be an appeal by supporters to a full panel of the Ninth Circuit, though they could also choose to bypass an en banc hearing and proceed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court for consideration.

U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker, who heard the original case, sparked a controversy when he announced after hearing the case that he was gay. Walker, who has since retired, was also vindicated by the appeal, with the court of appeals ruling he was within his rights to withhold that information before hearing the case, the BBC reported.

“This monumental appellate decision restores California to the growing list of states and countries that have ended exclusion from marriage and will further accelerate the surging nationwide majority for marriage,” Evan Wolfson, the president of Freedom to Marry, said to the Times.

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